Symonds St cemetery volunteer clean-up

JESS LEE
Last updated 05:00 07/12/2012
Shale Chambers

MUCKING IN: Waitemata Local Board chairman Shale Chambers rolls up his sleeves to help clean up Symonds St Cemetery, where his ancestors are buried.

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After decades of neglect the Symonds Street Cemetery is getting a much-needed spruce up thanks to a little help from its friends.

Armed with rakes and wheelbarrows members of Auckland Council's parks, sports and recreation team joined a group of volunteers for a large-scale clean-up.

The working bee marked the first step in the formation of a Friends of Symonds Street Cemetery group to be launched in February.

In July the board signed off a $1.64 million, 10-year funding scheme for the restoration of the cemetery and approved an initial $128,123 for next year.

Waitemata Local Board chairman Shale Chambers was one of the volunteers who rolled up their sleeves for the tidy-up.

"It was the first of what we hope will be regular clean-ups and maintenance for the long-neglected area through the introduction of the Friends of Symonds Street Cemetery group," he says.

The increased funding and maintenance is a welcomed initiative for the category one historic park after ongoing problems with vandalism of graves, security issues and anti-social behaviour during the past few years.

About 20 Jewish gravestones were vandalised with crudely drawn Nazi insignia at the cemetery in October.

Mr Chambers hopes the park's new lease of life will mark a turning point in its 170-year history.

The fifth-generation Aucklander has two sets of ancestors buried in the cemetery's Wesleyan section.

"It's not only a project that is long overdue but it is a personal one as well and one that we plan to see through."

Karangahape Rd historian Edward Bennett was delighted to see the local board getting involved in the first cleanup.

"It was amazing to see how much improvement was made in just two hours. It was like a room that hadn't been dusted in 10 years."

The cemetery's once bleak outlook has "completely and utterly" improved since the board became actively involved in its management, he says.

"They have been extremely proactive and are definitely putting their muscle where their mouth is."

But Mr Bennett is concerned things will not get off the ground with the proposed group if volunteers are stumped by council road-blocks.

The group will evaporate if members do not feel they are valued and certain issues surrounding the park's maintenance become points of conflict, he says.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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